The Conservative government has shown a “shocking lack of compassion” in the face of rising poverty, says Hastings & Rye Labour parliamentary candidate Peter Chowney.
And shoppers in Hastings got their chance to give their own verdict when campaigners gathered in the town centre on August 1 for a Day of Action on Child Poverty in Hastings.
Passers-by queued to sign petitions telling MP Amber Rudd she was not doing a very good job in combating poverty in the town. As we know, Tory policies have contributed to poverty. As has Universal Credit.
Peter Chowney’s indictment of Tory policies comes in the wake of a new report which says that more than 4 million people in the UK are trapped in deep poverty. This is defined as their income being 50% below the official breadline.
‘Infant mortality has increased for the first time in 60 years’
The report, from the Social Metrics Commission, highlights rising levels of hardship among children, larger families, lone parent households and pensioners. And it urges new Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take action to tackle the crisis.
Modern-day poverty, Hastings councillors heard at a full council meeting on July 24, is taking its toll on the most vulnerable:
- Infant mortality has increased for the first time in 60 years, with poorer parents now more likely to see their new baby die before it is one years old;
- More than one in four (25.7%) children in the town are living in poverty. This rises to 39.4% in Central St Leonards.
“These recent statistics showing the appalling and worsening effects of poverty in parts of our constituency demonstrate the government’s shocking lack of compassion, and the true impact of 10 years of austerity,” said Mr Chowney.
“Our MP Amber Rudd, who has retained her job as Work and Pensions Secretary in Boris Johnson’s new hard-right government, needs to tackle this.”
Last week (July 24), the council raised its own alarm over a rising poverty crisis in the town – the 13thmost deprived in Britain – with both Labour and Conservative councillors urging local and central government action.
Peter Chowney, also council leader, said: “I am very pleased that Hastings Council has resolved unanimously to put pressure on the government to tackle poverty, to monitor the impact of poverty more closely, and to condemn the short-term funding offered by the government as an inadequate sticking plaster.
“We are calling instead for long-term funding at a level that’s sufficient to deal with the local circumstances that have led to these shocking outcomes. No government should accept that levels of infant mortality, child poverty and life expectancy should be deteriorating here – we need serious action, and serious money, to turn this around.”
While the situation has worsened significantly in the last few years, the government and Hastings & Rye MP Amber Rudd appears unmoved by these hard ‘facts of life’.
Rudd has consistently voted for policies contributing to austerity and went so far as to attack a recent United Nations report, which blamed rising poverty on Tory austerity. She said she would lodge a complaint about the report, which she claimed was ‘biased’.
‘We’re going back to Victorian times’ – poverty levels have risen in the 10 years of Tory and Coalition government
Rudd now continues to preside over Universal Credit and claimant sanctions, which inflict misery on the disabled and the most vulnerable.
Austerity has undermined two decades of anti-poverty policy, according to campaigners. “By cutting £40 billion a year from our work and pensions budget through cuts and freezes to tax credits and benefits, the government has put progress into reverse,” according to Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group.
Further evidence of the extent of poverty in Hastings was provided by Cllr Judy Rogers, who said: “We’re going back to Victorian times.”She said the deep poverty suffered by claimants in Hastings reflects the amount of joblessness in the town:
- 30% of people aged 16 to 64 living in Hastings are economically inactive. This is more than the figure in mainland Britain of 21.5%.
- Overall claimant rates (in June 2018) were 4.8% compared to the national average of 2.2%
The council is urging the government to end the current system of ad hoc short-term funding and return to adequate long-term support based on local needs.
And charities and local people will get a chance to say how best to alleviate poverty at a Community Conference, while the council pledges to do all it can to fund support agencies.
The full motion reads as follows:
- Press government for an end to short term funding through competitive grants (ie Homelessness provision) and other initiatives, such as Hastings Opportunity Area, and a return to adequate long term support based on local needs.
- Ask the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider the impact of the anti-poverty strategy 2016-21 and for it to undertake to monitor key indicators of poverty on a regular basis.
- Call for a community conference to consider how best to tackle poverty in the next anti-poverty strategy, and to consider making this strategy a longer term (10 year) one to encourage partners to plan joint action more strategically.
- The council is already committed to fund and support voluntary sector advice and support agencies (HARC, CAB and Credit Union) for 2020/21, but we’ll do all we can to protect funding to commission effective advice and support services in future years.
- Sign up to become affiliated to the Child Poverty Action Group.
- Support and encourage others to support the day of action on child poverty in Hastings on August 1, led by Unite the Community and other local voluntary organisations.